Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Bills Building a 1970's-Style Powerhouse; Can it Work in Today's NFL?

Where to start here. Remember the '70s, especially the early part of the decade? Well, unless you are as old as me you probably don't. But, let's me put it this way:

  • In 1973, the Bills threw 4 touchdown passes all year -and finished 9-5.
  • The 1974, Steelers started three different quarterbacks, who combined to throw 12 TDs, and they won the Super Bowl, a game in which the Steelers threw for less than 100 yards. 
  • The 1970 and 1971 Vikings went a combined 23-5 and didn't have a quarterback throw more than 7 TDs in a single season. 
  • Pat Haden started a number of games for a very successful Rams team. 
  • Deiter Brock went 11-4 as a starter for the 1985 Rams, who were a bit of a throwback even then. 
  • Did you know that in the Super Bowl following the 1973 season, Hall of Fame QB Bob Griese threw 7 passes in a winning effort -and he had a Hall of Fame receiver in Paul Warfield?

What did all these teams have in common? They had good defense and could run the ball. Some of them, like the Steelers, Vikings, and Rams, had great defenses. Some of them, like '73 Bills and '85 Rams had prolific running games - with starting tailbacks, O.J. Simpson and Eric Dickerson each going for over 2,000 yards and breaking the league rushing record at the time. Some, like the Dolphins, had great running games and a great defense. But, the bottom line is that this seems to the the model the 2015 Bills are going for. Can it work in the modern NFL, when 9 QBs threw for 30 TDs or more last year? Compare that to 1972 when Billy Kilmer and Joe Namath led the league with 19 TD passes each.

Rex Ryan thinks it can. His first year with the Jets, when the team went to the AFC Championship game, they led the league in rushing and defense, while finishing near the bottom in passing with rookie Mark Sanchez throwing an anemic 12 TD passes. The next, when they also went to the championship game (and nearly came back to surprise the Steelers) they had a similar spread, although not quite as drastic. After that the running game slipped a little, the defense slipped and little, and culminating with last year's disaster, the Jets passing game slipped a lot, and Ryan was gone.

Coming into Buffalo, Ryan inherits a good-to-great defense and is being counted on to at least maintain it. On offense, we have no QB to speak of and a pretty bad O-Line. The receivers and the running backs seemed to okay to me, but a lot of people thought we were short on backs too. So, Ryan brings in Greg Roman, a purported running game guru to guide the offense. First thing we do is trade for the guy who was the number one fantasy football pick in most drafts last year. And he disappointed, but still gained 1,300 yards. Does he have anything left in the tank? Who knows, but with the success an aging Frank Gore had in Roman's system, maybe it can work.

Then we trade for Matt Cassel. People like to cite Matt Cassel's one great year with Patriots and call him a lucky stiff cuz he was in a good system with Randy Moss and Wes Welker as his receivers. But, in 2010 he led the Chiefs to a 10-5 record and threw 27 TD passes - 15 of them to Dwayne Bowe. His second leading receiver was Tony Moeaki. Also, the Chiefs led the league in rushing.

So, it comes down to this, to be successful in 2015 the Bills are obviously planning to run the ball. The only thing missing now is an offensive line - probably not a minor detail. Well, we already signed Richie Incognito, who I think has a reputation as a pretty fair run blocker. Next domino to fall into place almost has to Mike Iupati, former All-Pro guard under Roman in SF. Then, we might start to have something Rex likes to say "Ground and Pound," with McCoy and Freddie mixed in with some play-action fakes and deep to Watkins, all complemented by a stellar D that lets our offense be patient and grind it out.

If you don't believe this 1970's style of play can work in today's NFL, just check out the stats for the 2011 San Francisco 49ers: top 5 defense, ground control offense, 13-3, narrow loss in NFC championship game.

Oh yeah, but let's wait until we sign Iupati or make some other upgrade to the O-Line before we get too excited. But, it least I can see some light....

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